September 24, 2003


Initial Target: Decatur, IL
Departure: Urbana, IL 4:00 pm CDT
Arrival: Urbana, IL 7:00 pm CDT
Intercepts: None
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: None
Wind: Non-Severe
Features: None
Miles: 104


Bust.  Slight risk for squall line activity but it never materialized.  Targeted Decatur Illinois, but on arrival found only overcast skies and intermittent rain.  Grabbed some grub at McDonald's, evaluated the situation with a few phone calls and headed home.

Crew and Equipment:

One vehicle chase team included:  Jenny Acosta.  Nowcasting courtesy Adam Nekola.  Equipment consisted of a TH-F6 tri-band transceiver, NOAA weather radio, and cell phone.


I guess you could call this a desperate chase.  The weather was starting to cool off for the year and I was hoping to get in one last storm before the year ended.  The forecast was calling for a slight risk of severe wind across central Illinois.  The tornado threat was minimal so the plan was to catch some good squall line storm structure.

This was also my first chase equipped with a new ham radio.  Its a handheld Kenwood TH-56.  Transceiver on the 2m, 220, and 440 bands.  I was hoping to pickup, and perhaps participate in some spotter traffic.  SPC's wind probability graphic at left:


I admit that the Storm Prediction Center's forecast products are my primary data source for planning a chase.  A good chaser will plot their own forecast and maybe compare it with SPC's for reassurance or further insight.  I, however, am not on that level yet.

I do know the ingredients that make a good storm, though.  After analyzing some data from NCAR I chose Decatur as the initial target area.  Dew points looked good and the CAPE was decent.  As I would find out later, however, the atmosphere was still lacking some vital conditions.


SPC issued a Mesoscale Discussion for a possible blue box around 3pm.  This was enough to get me out the door.  Leaving Urbana, the sky looked pretty decent: a cumulus field that I hoped would fire a few towers as the front moved through.  The further we drove West though, the more the sky clouded over with stratus.


Arriving in Decatur, we found overcast skies and light rain.  Things were looking pretty bleak.  We pulled over at McDonald's and called Adam for a radar update.  I scanned the bands looking for some ham traffic and came up empty.  We called it quits, ate a nice leisurely fast food meal, and headed back home.
I looked over what had happened when I got back.  The few storms that did fire were in Indiana and Michigan but most were non-severe.  There were only two or three severe reports anywhere and no tornadoes.  It was a bust all around.
Two days later more weather moved through the area.  A tornado watch went up with a severe thunderstorm warning for Champaign county.  Classes and other plans kept me from chasing it, however.  I read on the newsgroups that a few went out but they also busted.  Spring is only a few months away.


Lesson learned:
  • Meteorological knowledge is invaluable when planning a chase.  Factors that probably shot this chase down were lack of lifting mechanisms and winds aloft.  I will need work on my forecasting skills for next Spring.
  • I don't have to drive all the way to Decatur just for McDonald's.